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Federal employee: 'Bills have started to pile up'

Local federal employees and contractors who are working without pay or furloughed as the partial government shutdown persists are feeling the pinch of not receiving pay.

“This has been said by a lot of federal employees that yeah, our pay has stopped,” said Jay Stockton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “But our expenses have not.”

Stockton is one of 400,000 federal employees across the nation considered “essential” under the Antideficiency Act, so the 19 days of shutdown that have passed so far have been typical workdays for him.

Except, that is, that he’s not getting paid for his work until the government reopens, a goal that remains tenuous as Congress and President Donald Trump fail to reach an agreement over whether $5 billion should be allocated to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I worked Christmas Day. I worked midnight shift New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day,” Stockton said. “All this without knowing if and when I was going to get paid.”

Most federal employees in Southern Oregon declined to be interviewed on the record by the Mail Tribune, saying they had been directed to defer comment to offices in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere. They work for various agencies including the U.S. Forest Service and the IRS.

But Stockton is speaking out, saying his coworkers are already facing difficult financial decisions as they await those indefinitely delayed paychecks.

“They are in a position where they have to make decisions about what is really essential and what they can do without,” he said.

He’s in a better position than most, he acknowledged, but he said a recent expensive carpeting purchase could lead to more debt.

“If this shutdown lasts much longer, we’re going to have to look at things like running up the credit card,” he said. “I would have to look into getting another job, which is difficult to do because any job that I get would have to be scheduled around my already crazy schedule.”

On Facebook, Sean Mohren, who identified himself as a currently furloughed ecologist with the National Park Service, shared on his profile that he applied for unemployment Tuesday, and a home he rents from the federal government at Crater Lake has maintenance issues that will go ignored.

“Personally, the bills have started to pile up and if this lasts much longer I will have to figure something out,” he said in a comment.

National Weather Service employees such as Stockton are considered “essential” because the agency’s core mission is considered a matter of security: it “provides weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.”

So even though Stockton is frustrated by the still-unpaid labor, he doesn’t doubt the necessity of his being there, he said.

“I don’t want to be the one that’s not there and have somebody get hurt because I didn’t do something that I should have been doing,” he said. “And I think a lot of us feel that way. We are dedicated to our jobs, we feel that the work we do is important, and we feel that there is a danger to the public if we don’t do our jobs.”

Some in the community not directly impacted by the shutdown are offering ways to help, especially with finances.

Rogue Credit Union opened up an offer Tuesday to members hurt by the shutdown to work toward helpful solutions to ease their financial struggle.

“This seemed like a natural thing,” said Kelsey Esqueda, marketing manager for Rogue Credit Union. “As a credit union, we’re not for profit, we’re owned by our members and we want to be there for them when they’re going through a tough time.”

One example of help she said the credit union will offer is a month deferment on a loan payment, but she said that plans will be worked out individually with members.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southern Oregon is offering to waive fees for any debt management or financial counseling services sought by federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay, as well as federal contractors.

Bill Ilhe, executive director, said that the nonprofit’s offer doesn’t carry a political message.

“We don’t have a dog in this fight on either side,” he said. “The only person we’re supporting here and we’re concerned about is working families that are living paycheck to paycheck.”

Congress has not yet passed a bill guaranteeing back pay to furloughed or working employees. A version of the bill was reintroduced in the Senate last week and two versions exist in the House. Neither of the House versions guarantee back pay to federal contractors.

Federal employees furloughed in previous shutdowns have received back pay.

Stockton said he wants Southern Oregon community members following the news on the shutdown at the federal level to know that “we’re real people. ... There’s a lot of us here, and yes we’re all being affected by it.”

“The longer this goes on, the more people are going to be in trouble.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneJay Stockton walks his dog Cassie on Wednesday on the Bear Creek Greenway near his home in Central Point. Stockton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service has been working without pay since the partial government shutdown began.